Author: Ann Noël
Published: Rainer Verlag, Berlin, 1982
405 (406) drawings and an offset print in eight colours inside
412 pages, 30 x 22 x 3.7 cm, hardcover.
130 signed and numbered copies.
One of my favourite bookworks and also a good place to start a catalogue is a tome by a Fluxus artist Ann Noël ‘YOU’. The book was first published by Rainer Verlag in Berlin in 1982 and it is in its essence a collection of drawings of a lower-case letter ‘i’. Every single of the 405 ‘i’s is hand drawn and unique.
Nöel has a long-standing relationship with the publishing industry. After graduating the Bath Academy of Art in 1968 she moved to Stuttgart to work with Hansjörg Mayer, one of the main publishers of artists’ books at the moment who worked, among others, with Ed Ruscha and Fluxus’s own Robert Filliou. Only a year after that Noël moved to New York to work with Dick Higgins in Something Else press where she met her future partner in crime, Emmett Williams (also editor-in-chief for Something Else Press). Throughout her career Ann Noël has always been intimately involved with publishing, whether by lecturing, supervising workshops or publishing artist’s books. ‘YOU’ was the first artist’s book published by the artist and it laid a foundation for a number of her future publications.
When reading and interpreting ‘YOU’, it is rewarding to consider the book within the framework of image versuslanguage. Within the debate of whether it is possible to strip the meaning from the verbal signifiers and transform them completely into visual imagery, the single letter seems to be the most straightforward way of achieving this goal.
Ann Noël however, beautifully positions herself on the edge of this debate. By using lower case ‘i’ she distances herself from the pronoun and the personal interpretation of the signifier, however she creates the same message through visual experience by creating a personality for each letter, transforming them into a collection of so-called portraits. The letters become personalities not through the classical interpretation of the personal pronoun ‘I’, but they become characters in a certain typographical fashion show that Ann Noël puts on.
The title of the book ‘YOU’ relates the emotional message to the reader. This is a work about every single person, ‘it is about you’ – Noël says to the reader indicating that everyone can find their own ‘i’ within the pages of the book. The lower-case is significant in another way as well. Noël is talking to and about a regular person, not the art connoisseur, her audience are book readers. She utilises a medium of a book that was at that point widely considered the most democratic medium of art. By creating a book, Ann Noël had the intention of reaching past the limited audiences of art galleries and to people that would not normally come across a conceptual art piece.